This past summer, I finally did it. I took the plunge and immersed myself in an entirely new city and culture without knowing a single soul beforehand. How? I participated in a study abroad program through the University of Toronto and took a politics course titled “Societal Change, Modern Germany and the Process of European Integration” in Berlin for six weeks.
Six weeks isn’t six months, but it’s more than six days and it left me wanting more. More, as in I have a deep desire to move/work there now. I could probably go on about the million things that I loved and learned about the vibrant city through my invaluable experience but then you’d really want me to move there… just so I would shut up.
Instead, here are seven reasons why a Toronto girl should visit Berlin:
1. Greenspace – I felt like there was infinitely more of it in Berlin and I loved it. There are picturesque park areas that span the Spree river and there are never-ending walking trails that interconnect parks with parkettes. Even better? Petting zoos, beer gardens and interestingly-shaped plants are incorporated in various parks. And, don’t forget to bring a bottle of wine (or beer) to accompany your park-lazing …it’s legal (and beer really is cheaper than water in Berlin).
2. Arts – There are over 170 museums and galleries in the German city putting Toronto to shame. Accessibility to the arts seems like a top priority (as it should be), because admission fees for students (with an ISIC card) were incredibly affordable. Furthermore, art exhibitions are so prevalent that it’s not uncommon to stumble across one at the back of a bookstore or on your way home from a night out.
3. Food – Whether it was grocery shopping at Kaiser’s or the bi-weekly Turkish market, I was glad to see and taste “real” strawberries again. You know, the ones that aren’t rock-hard in texture or the size of my palm? Yah, they were wonderful. Other honourable mentions: 1) Cheese, because of the wide selection at crazy-great prices and 2) Döners, because they were €2.50 and I (along with others) ate them twice a week. Judge me after you’ve tried one from Berlin.
4. History – Visiting and experiencing the various memorial sites, monuments and public art pieces dispersed throughout the German capital definitely helped me gain a better understanding of the city’s history and identity. Not only do they serve as reminders of Berlin’s turbulent past, they illustrate the city’s determination to build a better future.
5. Street art/furniture – I don’t remember an instance where I went from Point A to Point B without discovering an interesting mural, piece of stencil art, or graffiti. Like a good tourist, walking around where I lived (in Kreuzberg) was a novelty because I never knew what kind of street art I’d stumble across next. Another thing I noticed (and enjoyed) was the common practice of having patio furniture outside just about any type of business. There were places for people to sit and talk in front of almost every restaurant, cafe, convenience store, clothing boutique and internet cafe in the area I lived in.
6. Nightlife – To me, nightlife in Berlin was about the diversity of activities available. On a Tuesday night, you could go for a jaunt in your neighbourhood and find bustling streets and packed patios. (Don’t people have to work the next day?) On a Thursday night, you could find plenty of chattering people scattered along areas of the Spree. On a Saturday night, you could go to a club. Now, I’m not a fan of (Toronto) clubs but I was in Berlin(!) and told that Ihad to go to infamous Berghain. When I got inside, it was around 3 and I felt like I was in a loud and extremely high-ceilinged dungeon coloured with strobe lights. And after that, all I really remember were the large wooden bed swings and the ice cream parlour on the top floor.
7. Fleamarkets – “Flea markets proliferate a volume of goods needing to be sold and people who are hungry — emotionally and aesthetically — to sort out the meaning of life,” said Michael Prokopow, a professor at OCAD in the New York Times. In Berlin, Sunday is the best day to nurse your hangover while “sort[ing] out the meaning of life” – which really means finding vintage mattress ads in German, drinking freshly-squeezed fruit juices and buying a €2 “knot” ring.
If you’re interested in seeing a little more of Berlin from a Toronto girl’s perspective, you are welcome to look around my Flickr where I have some (touristy) photos that I took during my time there.
~ Charmaine Li @charmaine_li